How Can You Tell if Someone is Sorry – For Real?

by | Articles, Boundaries, Emotional Abuse, Learning, Waking Up | 41 comments

Are you at a stalemate in a relationship?

Do you try and try and try to talk it out with the other person, only to have them minimize, dismiss, and ignore your concerns?

Do they turn the tables on you and blame you for the problem?

Does this happen every single time you bring up an issue?

For as long as you’ve been in a relationship with them? 

Then it may be time to set a boundary and do some detaching until four things have taken place.

There are four steps to reconciliation, according to Christian counselor, Patrick Doyle. We talked about the first step, conviction, in the article To Forgive Doesn’t Automatically Mean To Reconcile.

The offender needs to be convicted by the Holy Spirit that what he/she is doing is wrong. We can’t convict another person; it has to come directly from God, or it’s not real. Without this God-given conviction, the process cannot move forward.

Today we’ll look at the next step:

2. If someone is really sorry, they will repent. 

Repentance is sincere regret and remorse over a wrong done. A person who is truly repentant is broken and contrite (Psalm 51:17). They have experienced a genuine conviction from God, Himself, and repentance is what naturally follows.

You can tell if someone is repentant by their actions. Just saying, “Dude, I’m SORRY, man” is a nice-sounding sentence, but it isn’t evidence of repentance.

A repentant person will name their sin, specifically, and they will be broken up about it. If the person is sorry just because you called them out or because you are implementing a boundary, that’s not real repentance. That’s “worldly sorrow” (II Cor. 7:10). They are sorry for themselves. Not sorry for the damage they’ve caused in the people around them.

A repentant person will not make excuses, blame you or something else, rationalize their behavior, or justify what they did. If a person is doing any of those things, they are not repentant. Period. Back to square one—waiting for God to convict them.

A repentant person is eager to make things right. They are patient with the person they have harmed, recognizing the pain they’ve caused and giving them time and space to heal. They seek help with whatever issues or addictions they have that may be contributing to the abusive behavior.

They don’t do these things because someone told them they should. They don’t do these things because someone told them if they didn’t, they’d lose their family. They don’t need to have someone hold their hand, like a three-year-old, and walk them through the process.

Real repentance comes from the heart because it flows from an authentic relationship with Christ and is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

How Can You Tell if Someone is Sorry - For Real?

Patrick Doyle points out that churches often gloss over this part of the process, especially when it comes to marriages.

I’ve seen this scenario played out first hand in my own life, and I’ve heard numerous stories with the same plotline. (Satan isn’t very creative.)

Saving the marriage is the top priority. Gotta keep those divorce stats down. Who cares about the people involved. And unfortunately, “saving the marriage” means different things to different people. In most cases, it just means keeping the couple married in the same house until one of them dies. That’s a “win” in their mind.

I don’t think God views it that way. God doesn’t just look at the cute Christmas card and say, “LOVE. IT.” God sees right into the hell of a home. He’s looking at hearts. He knows the vows were broken a long time ago. The marriage is not reflecting Christ and the church; it’s making a mockery of it. That’s reality.

That’s the truth behind the mask.

When we acknowledge the truth, we can take steps to deal with it. Covering up, pretending, and ignoring is not loving. Lies don’t honor God, no matter how pretty they are. What they do is give the offending partner a free pass to not only continue to harm others but ramp it up if they want to. And they often do.

Is this what God wants? A destructive person that continues to destroy – a victim that continues to be victimized – and a church that continues to turn the other way because it is uncomfortable?

A person who is truly repentant accepts whatever consequences there are without putting up a whiny stink. They are humble and sorrowful for their victim – not fighting for their right to have a clean slate, a full belly, and a warm bed.

A person who is truly repentant doesn’t ridicule the victim for his/her pain, try to guilt them into “forgiving and forgetting,” spin Scripture verses to exert control (spiritual abuse), point out the victim’s “equal sin” (this is sin leveling and minimizing), or have any other expectations on the victim.

“Repenting” and then expecting things in return is a thing. It’s called manipulation.

Repentant people don’t try to turn others against the victim and garner sympathy for themselves. They don’t do this in obvious ways, and they don’t do this in covert ways. Their heart is with their victim, and they only seek the well-being of the one they hurt. They are honest and come clean.

A repentant person is willing for the victim to go back and revisit past hurts. They understand that if there are many incidents that have been swept under the rug, the solution is not to keep them there.

The solution is to take them out, piece by piece, examine them, repent of them, and find healing and forgiveness. They won’t say things like, “C’mon, Babe, those are things of the past. I said I was sorry. Let’s not dredge everything up. It’s better to move on.”

That is not the attitude of someone who loves and cares and desires reconciliation.

I’m trying to spell this out in as many ways as possible because women in abusive relationships often feel confused in this area. They want so badly to believe their partner is sorry for real and wants to change. WILL change. They often take whatever bones the offending partner throws in their direction in a false hope that this is the turning point in the relationship, and things will get better here on out.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and I think we need to be aware of that and not get our hopes set on something that may never happen. It’s another way we can avoid the pain of acknowledging reality—and stay stuck. We need to be clear—very, very clear—on what to look for, specifically, to know for sure the offending party is truly repentant.

George Simon put it well:

The word contrition comes from the Latin contritus (the same root for the word contrite), and literally means “crushed to pieces.”   The contrite person has had their once haughty and prideful ego completely crushed under the tremendous weight of guilt and shame.  Such a person has “hit bottom” (as 12-step program adherents are wont to say) not only because they can no longer bear the thought of how badly their actions hurt others but also because of their deep realization of how their usual way of doing things has resulted in abject personal failure.  That’s why the contrite person is first and foremost a broken person.  And, by definition, only by acknowledging personal defeat can a person become potentially open to reconstructing their life on very different terms.  It’s been said many times, but it’s profoundly psychologically true.  One cannot begin a new life without laying to rest one’s old self.

…Contrition is that very rare but absolutely essential feature of changing one’s life for the better.  It requires a true metanoia or “change of heart.” And even more importantly, it requires work – a lot of very hard, humble, committed work.  Reforming one’s character is the most challenging of human enterprises.  You have to put a lot of energy into doing it, and you have to feel a deep sense of obligation about doing it in order to maintain the energy to get the job done.  And contrition wears a very distinctive face.  Truly contrite people behave very differently, even from regretful and remorseful people.  And when you know what to look for, you can readily tell the difference.

Other related articles that will fill this out for you even further include:

What is Repentance?

The Journey of Change: What it Looks Like

Genuine Repentance

Understanding the Difference Between Compliance and Change

Here’s what John the Baptist said to the Holy, Law-Abiding, Religious People of his day:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

Matthew 3:7-8

Oi, he got in trouble for that. They thought he was a slanderous, angry ol’ prophet, and they chopped off his head.

Sort of like what happens today.

The next step is here: Rushing Reconciliation is Rarely Rewarding.

P.S. There’s a support network of women of faith who know exactly how confusing it is to live this journey and wonder the very same questions about true repentance versus worldly sorrow. Learn more about the Flying Free Sisterhood and jump on the waiting list for the next opening!


  1. Cindy

    Great article! I’m new to your website, so you may have already addressed this issue (so please forgive me if that’s the case!): I know that statistically, women are the ones who are predominantly abused. But let’s please not forget the men who are also abused. It happens more than we would think. And with it, so much shame and embarrassment… Possibly even more so than when a woman is abused. (After all, “how can a MAN be abused?!”). I know of a wonderful Christian man in his 70’s who has been emotionally, mentally and at times physically abused for almost 20 years, yet, probably doesn’t even recognize that that’s what it is. His “Christian” (2nd) wife has single-handedly brainwashed him & isolated him from his entire family. There are very manipulative women who seek these men out, whom they can abuse. We need to create a safe space for all abuse victims, whether male or female. It’s all just so sick. I pray the Lord’s comfort, healing, strength and abundant life over them all.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      If I had a blog all about baking, you wouldn’t find an article on how to make chicken Cordon Bleu. And it wouldn’t be because I don’t like or eat chicken Cordon Bleu. Likewise, a blog for female victims of abuse isn’t likely to have articles about women abusing men. And not because it doesn’t happen or because men have been forgotten.

      • Cindy

        Very good point!

  2. Wendy Hawkins

    You are Godsent. Your words are the answer to so many of my prayers. So many times I’ve asked Him to untangle the web of confusion, give me the words to name my feelings and identify actions. Thank you so much! THANK YOU GOD!
    2. Repentance is the first of your blog I’ve read but certainly not the last. Thank you. There are not enough thank yous in the world for me right now…….thank you 🙂

  3. K

    I’m new to your blog… via Sheila Gregoire, and I’m just taking in post after post. My situation is not as dire as yours was, but I’m learning so much! It’s so refreshing bc I feel like you write the way my heart hears. I don’t know if that makes sense but… it means so much to me! Your blunt honesty mixed with wisdom and humor is just so on point. I especially appreciate your humor and realness…. it makes me more endeared to you!

    “And contrition wears a very distinctive face. Truly contrite people behave very differently, even from regretful and remorseful people. And when you know what to look for, you can readily tell the difference..”

    I felt very convicted by this post Bc I’m seeing the difference finally in contrite, regretful, remorseful. Thank you! It makes me look deeper into my motivations and want to change! I am twice an adulteress. I confessed both times and repented and faced (the second time) his cultish narcissistic super Reformed family. Like wrote the books on Reformed faith. They handled it ok-ish. Their forgiveness was “AMAZING!!”according to them (in my view – based on their lack of forgiveness for other “betrayers” aka: church “deserters”, yes it was) …. I just did “ok” in my utter humiliated state of repenting of my sin according to my husband. Not excusing my sin, this is just a hard situation.

    I just want to be contrite, I really do. I really think I was in the beginning stages of confession and repentance. I know I don’t deserve to still be here married and living in the same house caring for our kids. I know most women in oppressive borderline abusive situations do not cheat on their husbands (trust me, I’ve googled plenty). I’ve failed but I’ve also owned it and I have an amazing counselor and friends / family who do NOT let me off the hook on my sinful part in this.

    I guess if I had to summarize it all it would be: I so WISH I had read these blogs like yours and Shelia’s and Leslie Vernick’s when I felt isolated and alone, and like a perpetual cheerleader, a body to use not love, caught up in a church (his dad’s) who does not see the value of women beyond serving and having children. (We left after the first affair….I see that as God’s protection. I’m thankfu!!. Though we didn’t take the opportunity to work on things… hence affair 2) . I’m not blaming him I’m blaming US. There’s not a lot of info or advice for the woman who felt so trapped that sought ungodly ways of dealing with it.

    I thank you for this post Bc I needed it even tho I push against it. I’m responsible for my own sin. It’s tough when contrition feels like feeding the ego of a narcissist on repeat. I applaud you for hanging in there until you could get out. I wish I could have known women like you existed back then! Would have saved me a LOT of trouble and heartache! But…. the Lord is showing me His timing is perfect and I need to humble myself not Bc of “righteous” people who don’t cheat on their spouse (sometimes thats the only measure we are given) but Bc his love is so deep and so wide He wants freedom for me and for our family. You draw me closer to his Love, thank you!!

    • Natalie Hoffman

      You are forgiven because of Christ. The difference between you and your abuser is that you’ve repented and taken responsibility. An abuser can’t do that. Your sin is a sin of passion, in the “moment.” Not to excuse it, but that’s very different from the chronic sin of hatefulness and dehumanization of one’s intimate partner over a period of decades. Victims are forever beating themselves up, unable to take the grace of God for their anger, their anxiety, their thoughts of self-harm, their fear…and sometimes “worse” while their abusers laugh on the sidelines, enjoying the show. I believe God sees our hearts, and He sees the Big Picture. One day there will be justice, but in the meantime, you can look for the love you need in Jesus, and one day He will set you free from your abuser.

  4. Darryl G

    I read your blog and found so much truth I had to write you. I have hurt my wife , she left me and the kids after 18 years….and she was right, it took her bravery to leave a verbally abusive husband who was resentful with expectations of emotional intimacy which didnt come….because I didnt yeat those subtle clues. I shared with her how sorry I was to hurt her heart when I was to protect it, I explain ed whatever the outcome she will know my confession and truth so if many years from now I won’t regret not opening my heart to tell her how I was wrong, foolish, and willing to have christ help me become a better man. Yes I am broken, contrite and I deserve to suffer for these sins, but I love her and have shown her a level of vulnerability I never felt…with no expectations. My heart aches for our life…she was pure heart, loving mother, and I will never forgive myself. I. Hope jesus can save me,, I am so sorry I must let go and pray. My children deserved better and I failed
    ..thank you I had a moment of reflection reading your post and know I have been broken with no ego , anger or blame. She deserved better…

    • Natalie Hoffman

      Jesus CAN save you, Darryl. He loves you. If you are being sincere, you will let her go without putting up a fuss – glad she can find healing and a new life free of abuse – and then get help for yourself so you can heal and move forward in your own life.

  5. Linda

    How do you work through reconciliation with a non believer. How does the Holy Spirit convict them of their sin when they don,t even believe in him. Is reconciliation different for a non belever

    • Natalie

      A non-believer can’t be convicted by the Holy Spirit because they don’t have the Holy Spirit living in them. They would need to come up with the inner conviction, in and of themselves, without any help from God. Not sure that’s possible. I have seen an abusive man actually get SAVED – and THEN he turned around and completely transformed. But I’ve only seen this once.

      • Cindy Burrell

        I loved the Patrick Doyle video, watched the whole thing and can tell that he “gets it.” The commentator – not so much. The guy struggled to find a balance between Christian legalism, blame sharing and the hard truth about the kind of wickedness that is often overlooked or minimized in “Christian” marriages.

        Genuine repentance incites legitimate, heartfelt change. Here’s a short list of how you know if what you are seeing represents sincere, repentant change or merely compliance, and there are profound differences between the two:

        Real Change is Voluntary; Compliance is Obligatory
        Real Change is Sincere; Compliance is Half-Hearted
        Real Change is Lasting; Compliance is Temporary

        I would also like to offer readers a helpful piece on this subject entitled, “The Truth About Reconciliation.”



        • Natalie

          I totally agree. The guy who facilitates the interviews is blind – even though he hears Patrick Doyle over and over again. He just can’t get it. It’s kind of bizarre, don’t you think? Thank you for sharing your article with this community, Cindy. I’m going to reshare on Facebook.

          • Cindy Burrell

            I’m grateful for everything you do, Natalie, and honored to be in the battle with you.

  6. Rebecca

    Thank you so very much for writing such a well articulated piece of practical guidelines for identifying true repentance. Narcissist are master manipulator so it isn’t always clear if you are seeing a true change or not. These are invaluable mile markers for victims to look for. May God bless!

  7. Katie

    Hi Natalie,

    These posts have been wonderful and have helped reinforce what God has been teaching me the last few years. For SO many years I tried to earn respect by always being nice–and that is not even a guarantee! 🙂

    Anyway, I was wondering, can you recommend any sources for those we owe respect to–such as parents–but who are playing the blame game, refusing to work things out, sometimes resorting to being ugly and passive-aggressive (turning the tables, as you say, and implying that I must only want God to convict THEM…implying that I think I’m not at fault, but for the most part not being specific about what they want me to change)?

    I am an adult and don’t have to have any more contact than I choose to. Like most relationships, it is complicated, with both of us having wonderful and horrid qualities. 🙂 I need wisdom on implementing boundaries while still showing honor for all they have done for me.

    I could go on, but parent stuff may be too much for you to answer here. 🙂

    • Natalie Klejwa

      There are a lot of resources out there on difficult relationships – if you scroll through Patrick Doyle’s videos, you will find many applicable topics. I think dealing with parents is the same as dealing with anyone. We can respect and honor all people because they are made in God’s image. Parents included. However, when anyone, including those parents, refuses to engage in a mature, mutual relationship, there is nothing we can do about that. Relationships take two parties working together. When one party is selfish, nasty, passive aggressive, verbally and emotionally abusive, etc., the most loving thing we can do for them is give them a boundary. Enabling their destructive behavior isn’t healthy for them or for us. Giving boundaries is not dishonoring or disrespectful. It’s the opposite. It’s demonstrating that you regard them as adults, capable of making their own choices and letting them make those choices. If they choose to continue destructive behavior, you may let them know you will not be able to spend time with them. If they choose to take responsibility, own their stuff, work on it, and move toward you in a mutual relationship, you can let them know that you would enjoy spending time with them. Either way – it’s up to them. You love them. You are ready to move into relationship with them when they are ready. If they never are – then you let go. It’s sad and difficult, and they may gnash their teeth at you and accuse you of being a rotten daughter. But that is your opportunity to learn how to tolerate disapproval as well as to respect their choice to continue in their behavioral patterns. Just because someone says mean things – doesn’t make them right or true. It does reveal more of their pathology, thereby confirming your choice to detach and move on. If you haven’t read Boundaries yet, I highly recommend it.

      • Katie

        Thank you so much for your response.

        They have so many difficulties of their own that I am deeply concerned for them, yet my concern is often not appreciated (and I have my own issues with pushing too hard on what I’m concerned about). When I leave off contacting them for weeks at a time, it doesn’t seem to bother them at all–again, they are wrapped up in difficult stuff.

        So my struggle is how to reach out–they don’t *dislike* me doing so, but it also doesn’t matter to them, so I am finding more peace in just leaving them alone. (This seems a unique dynamic to me as more often people have trouble with family members repeatedly calling, texting, etc.) It is when one, in particular, feels backed against a wall that the passive-aggressiveness starts.

  8. Anon

    I have a question. My husband has been manipulative and refused to take responsibility for his actions throughout our marriage (going on 24 years now). I have just woken up to a lot of this within the last three years or so. God has done a lot of work in me – even more working in me as I’ve learned how to show more and more respect to my husband. I’ve faced my own issues and have found security in Christ and am at a place where I know that Christ is enough for me – that I no longer have to have my husband’s love. This is an amazing new place for me.

    My husband has never been physically abusive, he is very loving and affectionate and while I have wondered at times if he is narcissistic, I think the main problem is really just that he is not a believer (we married both as unbelievers and I was born again about 12 years ago).

    We are in a place where I have started to be very very bold about my needs and what I expect in our marriage for me to remain the wife he wants me to be (open and vulnerable and not shut down, basically). He has been responding to this… least I think he has. I don’t believe he is at a place of genuine repentance because I think that that is a work of God and he’s not there yet. But the changes that I’m seeing are positive and good. Or am I being “thrown a bone”? But, I have heard him say more times in the last few weeks than I’ve ever heard him say before – “You’re right.” He is finally listening to my concerns without using the same old tactics to get me to shut up.

    So, I guess I’m wondering if this is acceptable change.

    Maybe, I’m worried that I am too vulnerable to his manipulation still. But…maybe my taking a firmer stand has produced good change and that’s real, too?

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Ellie, over at A Cry for Justice, wrote a great article about how to know if an abuser has changed. It’s HERE.

      • Anon

        Thank you, Natalie. That was helpful. I think, for me, I can’t justify looking for some of the things that seem to be geared toward a total God work in his life (as far as seeking Christ and real, deep repentance). But, I am encouraged after reading the article and the list that there are several things that I am seeing him do that I haven’t seen before. He is no longer blaming me when I bring up issues, he is listening and saying that he’s sorry (no, it’s not totally specific, but I see a humility there that I haven’t seen before). He is definitely stepping up in helping parent our children in a way that I have never seen before (although I begged him for years to help me in).

        I definitely feel hesitant and cautious and I guess this is good. I believe I would slip back into habits of allowing the same behavior if I didn’t have these checks in my spirit right now.

  9. Young Dobbs

    “Her story was just illogical,” says Newberry. “And that’s what you should look for when you’re talking to someone who isn’t being truthful. Are there inconsistencies that just don’t fit?”

  10. Cindy Burrell

    Thank you for addressing this dynamic.

    I thought I would add my two cents by drawing from a piece I have on my blog entitled, “Understanding the Difference Between Compliance and Change.”

    The shortest possible reads as follows:

    Real Change is Voluntary; Compliance is Obligatory
    Real Change is Sincere; Compliance is Half-Hearted
    Real Change is Lasting; Compliance is Temporary

    I hope this is helpful.

    The entire article can be found here:

    I so appreciate your work in this ministry.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Nicely put and easy to remember. I just added this link into the article above as well. It’s perfect. Thank you, Cindy!

  11. Angie

    This is the most simple and profound (can those go together?) approach to this topic. You don’t say what is abuse and what isn’t, which I love because so often by listing those things, victims who are experiencing other things become even further confused and con even doubt the severity of their situation. Instead, you list the behavior and not dramatically but realistically. This is like a breath of fresh air for me.

    I learned after 20 years if being married that my situation was not a one of consistent misunderstandings or a result if my inability to be a good enough wife. Some of the things I resorted to, to get my husband’s attention and understanding were less than picture perfect and surely that was the reason why I never received grace or respect as a woman, the mother of our children or as the wife who sacrificed everything, including her own health to TRY to please her husband. I honestly, truly believed, these were all the dutiful things and that to ask for love was putting conditions on what I was contributing.

    It was only after I sought leadership for years within my church and then finally reached out to leadership at another church I serve at, then calling a hotline because I thought I was maybe crazy as a loon, did I think that maybe I needed more than just a Christian leader, but instead a counselor of abuse who supported and shared my beliefs. Not necessarily an accepted idea from those who ‘Know what the Bible says’. (I, the only one who was feeling like weekly rages, accusations and threatening to kill people and animals was a very serious issue.)

    I was blown away when I stepped back from men and sought out God directly. Not one verse here, or another version here. Not scrpiture that i have already read a million times through perception that was told not received, but the true character of Christ. Clear down to God being glorified through my life, it made no sense to remain as Angie, the victim.

    I hated that word as well as abuse. They were weakness in my eyes. But by seeking God in a new way, I saw many who were enslaved, abused, victimized and yet overcommers. Not the kind that stand up and shout of their victory over their foes and flaws, but ones that were humbled and honored and grateful to have been spared and loved by their heavenly father. These examples did not fall to the ground and give up, but they did not go on a rampage either. They trusted God, and remained faithful to Him as they prayed and sought freedom and better lives. They didn’t have to step out of the boundaries of God because they genuinely believed He loved them and that Christ had already paid for the sins of this world. They did not need a hero, but the Saving One, and they knew it.

    This was my new approach. It completely changed my life, the lives of my children and my personal relationship with the Lord. Through this transformation, I became aware that my husband was not only keeping his vows and commitments but that I too, had allowed myself to do the same.

    Right here ^^^ This us where the enemy tried to trap me. We’re we not two peas in a pod? Were we not actually one and the same? A sin is a sin is a sin, no?

    No.. Repentance changes the playing field. I laid out all my sins and fears and truths. I cried in private for weeks of the woman I was becoming and many times after as I asked God to convict me of all my sins so I could repent and be clean. I tried to bring this before my husband. I tried to ask him to see we could not continue in the path we had been living. In this process I learned, I had less to lose. He clung to his control instead of Christ. He chose to remain stubborn even when I said I would give him a year to seek counseling before removing myself from our home. He chose not to. God continued to move me and gave me such peace.

    Now everything is out on the table and instead of meeting me in the middle, my husband has taken my words and twisted them greatly and has tried to make himself look like a victim. A man who loves his wife and is just always misunderstood and wants to be lived for who he is. It was a confirmation for me that he did not want happiness, or God’s guidance. He wanted control.

    We have been living together separately for 9 months. His year is up and still no counseling. God is moving me and it feels right. Since I truly began listening, He sure talks to me more. I do nothing out of urgency or panic anymore. I am sure of every move now before doing it. No more anger, sadness, or fear outside of occasional moments of forgetting what I know. My life is a complete opposite if before. God is so good. 🙂

    • Natalie Klejwa

      There are many helpful things in this comment! Thank you so much for sharing what you have learned. I think it benefits other readers to hear these kinds of testimonies over and over again. It also helps the one sharing to process it more deeply. Yup. I think that’s why I have a blog. 🙂

  12. Teresa

    Rather than repentance, you will likely see one or more of these 3 responses when you question an abuser: 1) Anger 2) Attempts at gaining pity 3) Attempts to discredit and smear the victim. These are often subtle, so you have to know what you’re looking for. Manipulation is one of their strongest tools.

  13. bobbie

    Having left an abusive relationship fairly recently I can say wholeheartedly, PREACH. IT.
    If you’re taking into account narcissistic behavior, and it sounds like you are, then we, the church, good intentioned friends, family, etc., HAVE to be educated and recognize the fact that this type of behavior isn’t merely hashmarks on the timeline of our lives or circumstances, its an underlying, pervasive mindset that affects everything the offending spouse does, thinks and says, from BEFORE the start of the marriage. So in that sense, recognition of the selflessness that the marriage vows stand for and living out a holy relationship as God intended so that others would see or be drawn to Christ by looking at the marriage, is an incapable, incomprehensible, non-existent thought of the offending spouse. Therefore, the marriage was not entered INTO as God intended and designed, there was no intent (or true understanding) on living out the vows in the first place and the marriage, as God designed, was non-existent from the start. THAT is my reality and it took me 23 years to accept it. THANK YOU so much for sharing, I look forward to reading more of your work. ?

    • Natalie Klejwa

      So, so true! Hopefully as this issue becomes more mainstream, there will be more conversations/education about how to prevent it.

  14. Teresa

    One thing that makes repentance hard to discern is that abusers are often pretty good at changing their behavior, at least temporarily (when their hand is forced), as well as seeming to say the “right” things. What seems not to be so easy for them is communicating a genuine self-awareness of their attitudinal sins that drove the abuse. They have a difficult time going any deeper than saying that they were selfish or prideful or too driven by work, etc. Really trying to understand how their actions harmed others is foreign territory for them. Empathy is key.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      “…abusers are often pretty good at changing their behavior, at least temporarily (when their hand is forced), as well as seeming to say the “right” things.”


  15. LuAnn Young

    I need to reread this daily until it sinks in. Thank you for a voice of sanity in this chaotic, dysfunctional world; breaking free of an emotional abuser husband.

  16. Elaine

    This made me cry because it is so true….thank you for writing what my heart needed today. You are in my prayers as you go through this journey of suffering. You are one courageous woman to stand up for truth!

  17. Veronica

    Hi Natalie, this is hard for me because I agree wholeheartedly with 99% of what you say and the few areas of disagreement that we have had, have (boy “have, had, have is really awkward to write..) been a blessing because they’ve encouraged me to search out scripture for myself. You have such a clear and fluent mind paired with such a quick wit and I have soaked up your articles because so many of them have put so eloquently to words the niggling questions that lie just beneath the surface of my consciousness. I love that your writing comes from a place of love and empathy for “the least of these” and the work of advocating for women in abusive situations is so do direly needed. Although I can’t relate on a deep knowing level with these struggles, I’ve had a window into some of that pain advocating for people that are very close to me but I feel like I have to say something about this sentence because it is just “too” big of an issue to overlook and chalk up to differences of opinion, parentheses mine:
    “God sees right into the hell of a home. (True). He’s looking at hearts.(True.) He knows the marriage is non-existent already.(Really?) The vows broken a long time ago. (True.) That’s reality.”(…I’m not sure that we can make that conclusion from your line of reasoning).
    Maybe I completely misunderstood you here, just to clarify are you saying that just because vows have been broken (maybe even repetitively) that God no longer sees a couple as married? I agree that a marriage can be damaged and mangled to the point of not being recognizable to our eyes as something that resembles God’s plan for what He intended marriage to be…but can you really say that the marriage union is dissolved in God’s eyes because the vows have been broken long ago? That’s not the implication I get from the story of Hosea and Gomer and others. While I understand that we can’t look at that historical account too simplistically because there are deep spiritual truths involved in understanding it, I yet think we are supposed to take “some” Christian guidance from it and the many other scriptures that speak in the same vein.
    I have to go-My six little ones are starting to get rowdy and I have to put the phone down! :p Can I give you a virtual sister hug? I’m sure you disagree with what I’ve said and of course that’s totally fine. I’m really just hoping that this was a misunderstanding on my part of your words and what you were trying to say, blogging is tough in that way…I just felt like my heart was telling me that I needed to speak up here.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      You’re right. It was a haphazard piece of writing – of course there is a legal marriage, and even if a spouse is being mistreated within that legal marriage, he/she doesn’t have the license to behave as if they are not married. What I meant to communicate is that there is no marriage in the way that Christians view marriage: a union between a man and woman that is a reflection of Christ and the church. It is a mockery of that kind of marriage. I was being sloppy in my communication, and I’ll revise it now. Thank you for pointing that out!

      • Veronica

        Thank you for your gracious response Natalie~ I had a feeling I was just misunderstanding what you were saying and just wanted to be sure since it is such an important topic. Blessings to you.

        • Natalie Klejwa

          Thank YOU for bringing up your concern in a healthy, gracious way. When people attack, it is more challenging to respond pleasantly. You made it easy for me. 🙂

  18. Leila

    I did go and watch the video after your last post (and several more, and I have been going through them slowly and taking notes) and I found myself in tears as I heard him talk about contrition. Contrition is so much more than saying sorry, and yet in all my twenty years of marriage I don’t think my husband has apologized to my for something he did that hurt me. I remember he did once before we got married. And what made it hurt even more is that my husband has fallen in love with someone else and I know he has said sorry to her. Only recently, probably as a result of the video, has it occurred to me that maybe his sorry to her isn’t a sign of true contrition or repentance either. Part of me has speculated that should he ever have her in his life in a permanent form, he would soon start treating her the same way, because that is his nature, even if right now he has convinced himself that she has all the character qualities he sees lacking in me. I am starting to suspect that when he apologizes to her it is simply because he can’t run the risk of driving her away, since there is currently nothing that ties her to him other than her feelings of attraction.

    And these thoughts actually frighten me because they make me fear that he may be unable to see that sometimes he is wrong in how he treats people, even if in some other ways he treats people in a more Christ-like manner than others do. The more I think about, the more I wonder if he has ever acknowledged that he was truly wrong about something. And he is so often harshly critical of others with great pronouncements about WHY they are doing wrong. He always seems to *know* the thoughts of others and *why* they do things, myself included, even though sometimes I am very puzzled because I am sure the reason he tells me I did something is not the reason I did it.

    I also find myself begging God to help me be contrite and convict me of wrong-doing. And yet I’m also scared because most of my marriage I’ve put all the blame on myself and almost drowned in self-loathing because I was so wrong and so bad and so un-loving and so un-Christ-like. It’s hard to find a balance between making sure I acknowledge where I am wrong and not lose myself in self-hating for all that I do wrong.

    • Natalie Klejwa

      Everything you are writing indicates that you are in a verbally and emotionally abusive marriage. It sounds like you are confused, guilt-ridden, and stuck. Those are the normal results of being mind-manipulated by someone over a period of time. I hope you will keep reading and learning. It is true that we all sin, and we need to take responsibility for our responses, however this doesn’t mean we are responsible for our husband’s behaviors (or anyone else for that matter). We all have good things and bad things about us. We want to be healthy and take ownership of both parts of ourselves. We will never get it all right, no matter how hard we try. If your husband expects that in order to love you, then he has his own pathology to deal with. It says more about him than it says about you. It’s okay to fail. When we do, we go to the cross and it is taken care of. Christ’s blood covers the repentant person and sets them free. What is unhealthy is when we refuse to own our failures and work on them. When we think we are better than others or expect others to be perfect. It sounds like this is part of what your husband’s problem is. Hang in there. The more you learn, the more aware you will become of what is going on in your marriage. All of this takes time.

    • Sarah

      I never comment on these… but I felt like I had written this word for word, I hope that you find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

      • Natalie Klejwa

        Thank you for joining the conversation, Sarah! 🙂



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